Wednesday, December 7, 2022

How good are we in judging people?


Vimala visited Sri Parthasarathi swami temple at Triplicane regularly on Saturday evenings unless there was a pressing engagement elsewhere. When her husband Ananth teased her one evening with a mischievous smile,“I know why you visit the temple with such regularity though you haven’t confided in me.”

She blushed for a moment and said, “There is no specific reason for these visits as you imagine. Unlike you and your family, ours have always been devout and religious and this practice of mine that commenced from my father’s days continue even after his death. Maybe you have some hidden wish to be fulfilled through my prayers.”

In her early thirties with a post graduate from Delhi school of economics, she worked as an Assistant professor in a college very near the beach at Triplicane. Her husband Ananth held a senior position in a reputed finance company. They lived happily in their posh apartment in St Mary’s road though they were not blessed with a child for more than seven years.

One evening as Ananth was leaving for office, he said, “Vimala, tomorrow evening you are to accompany me for a memorial lecture on the ‘Current Indian economy and the required reform priorities’ by a well-known CEO followed by cocktails and dinner at Hotel Three Trees. The invitees have been requested to attend with spouses. This is an important event I cannot afford to miss. Be ready by 4pm. I will come and pick you.”

When Vimala and Ananth entered the glittering and classy auditorium, it was almost full and the event was just about to begin. Just as they took their seats, someone started the usual welcome speech and thanked the main speaker for her gracious presence and introduced her as Ms. Amby Ranger, CEO of the India and South East region of a well-known worldwide American bank. After a brief profile of her education in Chicago and later her doctorate in Harvard and her significant professional achievements, he requested her to give her valuable thoughts on the burning topic of the day.

When the lady came to the rostrum amidst a warm ovation, Vimala noticed that the lady was in a formal blue coat and pants and a light blue shirt, with her hair let down unbundled and her face had a light make up along with maroon lipstick and mascara. She looked very attractive with her glistening pearl necklace in white around her neck. The lady confidently looked around at the audience showing recognition of some of the faces on the front row with a slight nod or smile and commenced her speech. Endowed with a voice that was clear, her diction flawless with a faint drawl of her Harvard days and with arguments persuasive, she kept the audience riveted to her speech. She concluded her speech in 45 minutes with a surprising quote from Thirukkural. After the long applause, there were a few questions from the audience that were fielded by her with aplomb and apt answers.

Vimala was seated at a distance from the dais and could get only a hazy picture of the speaker. It was only at the cocktails when the chief guest moved around among the audience with a half-filled glass in her hand, Vimala could get a glimpse her conversing animatedly with many important people crowding around her. Her warm hugs with some of the ladies, ready handshakes with many men and the hoo-hah that accompanied looked affected for Vimala.

 As she deftly moved from them to others, Vimala felt she caught her eyes. After a few minutes with another crowd, she saw the lady making a dash towards her and exclaiming,” Hello, have we met before? There is something familiar in you. Are you working? Have you come with your hubby? Maybe I know him. Do introduce him to me,” she spoke with much enthusiasm.

“I am Vimala and teaching economics at Presidency college. My husband Ananth is working in a senior position in a well-known finance company,” she replied  and hailed Ananth who was standing nearby. After shaking hands with Ananth, she laughed heartily and said, “You are a pretty lucky guy to have such a charming wife. I have taken a great liking for her We must get to know better. Maybe one of these days, we shall catch up,” and hurried away towards another group of people waiting eagerly nearby.

As they were returning home, Vimala asked Ananth, “What do you make of that Amby something?”

“Why, she is a very pleasant and vivacious lady, highly knowledgeable and taking the bank to great heights. Don’t you agree?” he replied.

“No, a very artificial and pretentious woman, I have developed an instant dislike for her. You are one of the hundreds to have attended the meeting. What is there with us  to catch up and meet again? I think she must be nearing 60.” Vimala spewed her distaste. Ananth did not react but drove home silently.

During one of the subsequent temple visits, Vimala noticed a good-looking lady of about 55 standing by her side in the main sanctum and praying with eyes closed. She looked fetching in her blue silk sari with a large bindi on her forehead, sparkling diamond ear stud and a string of jasmine on the head over the neat bundle. She had a bowl with flowers, betel leaves, coconut and other things in her hand. As the priest came near them after the arthi with the plate carrying the burning camphor, the lady dropped a hundred rupee note. She gave the bowl in his hands and requested for an archanai(puja) in God’s name.

When Vimala turned to look at her as they were coming out of the sanctum, the lady gently smiled and asked, “Aren’t you Vimala teaching economics in a college?”

Vimala blinked at the somewhat familiar figure unable to place her, when that lady exclaimed, “My god, you have forgotten me so soon. We met only the other day at the function in Three trees hotel.”

‘I am so sorry. You were so different there. I never expected you in a temple in our traditional sari with bindi, flowers on the head and a bowl in hand. But your name there was also outlandish. Pray, do not take me amiss,” she said

“I understand your confusion. The setting there was so different. Call me Ambuja. When I was in Harvard, the classmates called me Amby and my boyfriend then and husband now was known as Ranger, shortened form for Rangarajan,” she laughed and continued, “I do not drink after I returned to India and  took a degree in Vaishnavism but hold the glass without sipping on formal meetings. You must visit my house at Neelankarai. Have this card and ring me before you visit as I work both from Mumbai and Chennai.”

“It is awesome that with all this crowded official life, you took time to delve into Vaishnavism. How come you visit this temple each week all the way from Neelankarai? Any special attraction to the Presiding deity?” Vimala asked with a giggle.

 “Good question. My maternal grandfather lived years back in the Car street and as a young girl used to visit the temple with my grandma. That could be one of the reasons I am drawn here besides the fact that I find great peace after I pray standing before the lord,” Ambuja said, reminiscing her younger days. I am to rush back. More to talk when we meet next time,” she replied as she hurried away.

When Vimala was standing wondering whether to visit lord Narasimha shrine, the priest who knew her well came out of the shrine asked,” Vimala, what are you thinking about?”

“Nothing mama, Good you came out. Do you know the lady who was standing by my side? She impressed me with her devoutness and interest in Vaishnavism despite holding a very top position earning huge salary,” asked Vimala

“I don’t know much about her but she seems to be sincere and well-to-do as she is very  liberal,” he said.

That night when Vimala and her husband Ananth were watching the TV, she narrated about her meeting Ambuja  at the temple and how she was impressed with her deportment, elegance and gentle way of her talking. I feel terribly bad at my initial dislike for her that was hasty and misplaced. I wish to cultivate her and learn about Vaishnavism.”

 After some silence Vimala spoke again, “How faulty we are at judging people by mere looks. Appearance does not tell us the truth. A donkey with holy books tied around its neck is still a donkey. A learned and wise man in rags and squatting in dirt is still wise man. The external robes often mislead the true character of the person inside. The mere presence at the temple does not make one pious nor a dagger in hand a murderer. There is always more than what meets the eye.”






Saturday, December 3, 2022

A lesson learnt


Sivaguru is a leading member of the bar and commanded huge practice. A much sought-after lawyer, his office at his sprawling home was always crowded with litigants. Known for his legal acumen, brilliance in exposition of cases and a track of successful outcomes even his colleagues in the bar hesitated to take up cases when he was representing the other side.

The success in his career and the wealth it brought did not affect him. He chose his cases on the basis of their merit and challenge they offered and not on the remuneration they brought. He was such a kind hearted and a compassionate person that quite often the members of the bar would wonder when he argued with fervour cases of litigants who seemed very poor. All these qualities of head and heart earned him the high esteem of the judges.

Natesan, his son in his early twenties worked as an apprentice in his office after finishing his graduation in law. There were several other juniors too under the senior lawyer. Saturdays were usually very busy with many clients coming after prior appointment. The senior generally avoided professional work on Sundays keeping the day for family. It was Natesan who checked the register of appointments and allowed the clients access to the lawyer generally in the order of appointments.

It was one Saturday there were half a dozen or more cars in the compound and the hall had already a few clients with registered appointments waiting for their turn. There was also an old person in late seventies with ash marks on his forehead and unshaved brittle hair on his face seated in a corner of the visitors’ lounge. He was in crumpled khadi dhoti that was worn in traditional manner passing through the legs, an unpressed half-sleeves khadi kurta with a yellow cloth bag in his hands. He looked a rustic from a village in appearance.

“Have you registered for an appointment already? What is your good name?” asked Natesaan.

“No, I am no client but know Sivaguru personally very well. I would not take more than a few minutes. Just inform him that Paramasivam is wanting to meet him for a short time,” he said.

Natesan was not impressed assuming the old man to be one of the many who came to seek alms or donations for some temple or charitable causes. He chose not to inform the senior lawyer about this man but sent one after the other the waiting clients. A bearer from inside the house brought a tray with cups of coffee for the visitors. Natesan saw the old man gently decline.

“Could you mention to Sivaguru about my waiting here to meet him? I have to return to my village for an urgent work,” asked the old man after waiting for long time.

“Don’t you see so many clients with important cases are waiting after fixing appointment? You have no appointment and will have to wait for your turn,” Natesan replied somewhat curtly.

It was then Sivaguru the senior lawyer chanced to come out to the hall along with important looking client to see him off. When he heard Natesan talking brusquely to someone, he turned to see what was happening. As soon as he saw Paramasivam, he left the client abruptly and came rushing to Paramasivam with the palms together on his chest  and his head and body bent in reverence.

“Ayya, (respectful form of addressing) how long have you been waiting? Should you not have walked inside directly? You could have at least sent word through Natesan."

“You are a busy man with many clients waiting for you. I did not want to intrude and was prepared to wait for my turn. I am very happy to see you having successful practice. I came to the town on some pressing work and thought of spending a few minutes before returning,” Paramasivam replied without mentioning about the long wait for nearly two hours.

Sivaguru held his hand to take him inside the house and turned to the waiting clients to tell, “I have a venerable family friend  visiting me after long years and wish to spend time with him. Kindly come back at 4pm and I will meet you all today itself. Please bear with me.”

When the two were seated in the large living room, Sivaguru along with his wife and children prostrated before him seeking his blessings. He requested the old man to have his lunch with him.  After lunch, they were closeted alone for two hours discussing about the village, the bygone days and about the urgency of the renovation of the lake and the local Shiva temple.

At 3.30pm when the old man took leave, the senior lawyer instructed his driver to drop him at his village about 50 miles away. Along with Natesan he walked up to the car to see him off. The old man before entering the car, pulled Natesan towards him, gently patted him with a smile and made a passing remark, “Learn to be like your father. You will be as successful as he is.”

During dinner with family that night, Sivaguru turned to Natesan in and remarked, "Do not be carried away by appearances or external appurtenances like apparel, jewels or car. Great people are humble and rarely flaunt. He owns three fourths of my village and lands in other places too. A god fearing and kind-hearted man as he is, I would have been struggling in life but for his compassion and munificence.” After a pause he wiped his eyes and continued,” My father, a small farmer with limited ancestral land living in the same street as his, died young suddenly. It was this gentleman who took care of our family tilling our lands, educating me till I equipped myself to be a lawyer and ensuring that we lived financially in comfort. He gifted me with a motorbike when I started attending college. I am today what I am solely because of my revered benefactor.”

With remorse for his rude behaviour, Natesan confessed to his father, “Sorry appa, I acted rather foolishly thinking he was a supplicant come to seek alms and made him wait unfairly and unduly for a long time. I even ignored his request to inform you about his desire to meet you for a few minutes. He could have protested or revealed who he was but chose to be silent.”

Sivaguru patted his back and said “Appearances are deceptive. The truly great are silent and do not react as we do. The respect you give to them should be the respect you would wish for if you were similarly placed. Fairness in dealings and compassion to all especially to the disadvantaged are the two virtues you must adhere to always in your life.”

A chastened Natesan fell flat before him and clutching his legs pleaded, "Forgive me, appa.I have leant a valuable lesson today and I promise to follow your advice,"

"Good, though I would be at peace only after a slight punishment for your rude behaviour today. I would ask one of the other apprentices to look after from Monday  the register of appointments and letting in the clients to my room,"Sivaguru said softly but firmly.

“Treat everyone with politeness and kindness, not because they are nice, but because you are.”


Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The world is not bereft of good people

Varadapuram is a nondescript railway station in a Southern state serving a few villages around it. It had no distinctive features except for a tiled room for the station master and a small waiting hall adjacent to the room with its three sides open. A few trees aligned along the fence provided shade to the platform during hot summer and a sanctuary to the unattended cattle, goats and stray mongrels that roamed on the platform unhindered. Saravanan who was in charge of the station performed different roles like issuing tickets to the passengers and collecting tickets from those who alight at the station besides receiving the trains with green and red flags in his hand. The station could boast of only one track abutting the platform. Only two passenger trains stopped at the station either way in a day. Arumugam, an aged man who walked with a limp, had his daily job of ringing the bell to announce the arrival of incoming train, keeping the premises reasonably clean and doing occasionally the duty of a porter when there was a need.

One train was scheduled to arrive at 11.45 am daily. It was 11.30 am already on a particular day. He saw a woman entering the station with a baby of two years on her hip, a big bag on her other shoulder and a box in hand along with a girl of five years and a boy of seven years holding the girl’s hand. The woman was shouting at the girl who squatted on the floor refusing to enter the platform. As the boy dragged her inside, the girl’s wail grew louder. Her petulant ways went on for more than ten minutes to the chagrin of the woman. To her distress, Arumugam started ringing the bell as the incoming train was sighted at the outer point. The train stops for just a minute or two at the station. The station master Saravanan had already come out to the platform with the flags tucked under his arms.

Arumugam warned the woman that she must hurry as the train would not wait for long. But the little girl now lay flat on the floor swaying her legs and arms rendering the boy ineffective. The woman looked at Arumugam with folded hands as if seeking his help. Realizing the sad plight of the woman and the risk of her missing the train, he in turn looked at the station master with pleading eyes. Noticing the slight nod of his head, Arumugam rushed towards her with the four wheeled trolley used normally to carry gunny bags of crop for loading in the trains.

He snatched the box from her hand and the bag from her shoulder to put them on the trolley even as he shouted at her, “Don’t you have any sense of time? Why do you come so late to the station? Lift the grouchy girl bodily and sit of the trolley holding her tight,” even as the boy jumped with joy on the trolley unasked. Arumugam dragged the trolley towards the coaches even as the train slowed down to stop at the station. After a slight scramble to find the right coach, he hustled the woman and her children with the baggage into one even as the train started moving with a whistle.

The unknown woman with grateful tears from her eyes bent her head low in deference at her benefactor even as she watched the receding figure of Arumugam wave his hand with satisfaction and a smile on his face.

In less than 15 minutes, a few men and women came rushing to the station shouting,” Where is the woman? A woman with a boy and two girls? Have they by any chance left by train?”

“What is the commotion about? Tell me slowly in detail,” asked Arumugam.

One villager came forward and replied, “That wicked woman has kidnapped two girls and a boy. Have you seen her boarding the train with the children?”

“Yes, the woman took the train. Whose children, are they? Where is the father?”

They pulled another man from the crowd and said, “He is the father,” and nudged him to speak. But the man who looked drowsy was silent for a while and when prodded again blabbered incomprehensibly.

An old woman from the fringe volunteered to say, “Ignore these men>That prattling man is the father and the woman is the hapless mother of the three children. Not a day passed without this wicked man beating her blue for no reason and unable to bear the agony anymore, she wisely took her children away to her parent’s place. These men are his heartless buddies at the arrack shop. I rushed with them to ensure that no harm came to that unfortunate but good woman from these drunks if they found her. Lucky that she boarded the train with the children.”

When the men with raised hands threatened the old woman with “You dirty hag, we will teach you a lesson fittingly when we reach the village. How dare you complain about us?  Soon your hut will burn and you will be rendered homeless. How dare you follow us?”

The station master Saravanan in his uniform who was listening to the conversation warned them in a stern voice,” I have heard every word you people said. Beware of the consequences if you cause any trouble to anyone and now quietly disperse from the government property at once. Do remember that I will not be quiet if some harm comes to the old woman”

Even as the men turned to trudge back silently, the brave old women bent with folded arms and said, “Luckily the world is not yet bereft of good people.”


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Living gods are still around


Diwali was on the next day. There were festoons and sparkling serial lights everywhere in the bazaar. The sales were brisk with shops awash with goods in glittering colours and designs on the shelves and platforms and with an overflowing crowd of people eager to buy.

 I had nothing in particular to buy but came to the big departmental store to while away my time watching people buy things crazily, maybe on borrowed money. I saw a woman in her early forties, with a small boy and a girl slightly older in tow in the store watching the shelves from a distance. From her appearance and ordinary dress, I could surmise she was not in good circumstances. The young boy was tugging her at every shelf and pointing out some item or the other he desired. She  dragged him away gently but firmly. The girl was quieter and was seen comforting the boy.

I saw them moving towards the discount counter offering, long held but unsold, dresses at dirt cheap prices. She selected after a long time two dresses one each for her kids and moved towards the sweet stall. The boy wanted many delicacies but when his mom bought half a kg of the cheapest sweet, he started crying loudly. She took care to make a detour to the gate by avoiding the fireworks and crackers section.

As they were nearing the entrance, someone collided against the girl who was holding the sweets packet. The box opened and all the contents fell down on the floor. When the girl quickly bent to pick the sweets, the security dissuaded her saying it was a very dirty place with so many people walking in and out. The lady’s face was grim as tears trickled from the eyes of the girl. The boy started pleading that they go back to buy again. But the lady dragged them away outside.

I could not forget the faces of the crying boy, the silent girl with guilt writ large and the sad woman. I wondered why God kept some in perpetual want while some in needless plenty. It made my heart heavy and I lost the mood to linger anymore in the shopping centre. I had no money in my pocket then to give. But I collected her address saying that I would come soon with some sweets and crackers. A man next to the security, who was listening to the conversation, nodded his head at me with a smile.

An hour or so later, I went to the one room tiled tenement. I saw a white van of the store with its name on it on the road outside. The room was not bright with a dim light. There was a man in a driver's white uniform standing with two large baskets in his hand.

” These baskets are for you and your children. My boss, the owner of the shop, every year on Diwali eve gives gifts like these to some unknown people. He saw you and your children at the entrance of the departmental store.  Please have no worry as he is a very decent and good man,“ the driver said.

The boy jumped with joy and the girl smiled. The woman after some hesitation accepted the baskets to find new and good dresses for all, plenty of sweets of different varieties, fruits and crackers for the kids. There was a cover addressed “To my sister, Happy Diwali” with 1000 Rupees inside. 

The driver smiled at her and said “Yes, this is the way my boss celebrates Diwali each year bringing cheer and smile to some unknown needy family. He is my living god”

“Mine too,” I said as I handed over the two packets and added “Here is my small bonus gift for the girl who dropped the sweets and the boy who missed to see the crackers section.” 

The joy and the smile on their faces, I felt, would bring me greater cheer and happiness than what  the festivities could offer

(Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good;;try to use ordinary situations)

Friday, November 4, 2022

The ‘crazy’ woman under the temple car


It was a town known for its Krishna temple going by another name of the lord. The much renowned temple and its large tank drew devotees all through the year. There were a number of small shops on the front side of the temple selling different things.

This story is not about the temple or the lord housed in its precincts but about a ‘crazy’ woman in her 60’s clad in a faded frock who lived under the temple car(chariot) for years. No one knew exactly how she came to live under the temple car or where she hailed from. She was short, olive-skinned with a flat nose and slanted eyes. Possibly she hailed from some Eastern country but people assumed it was Burma.

The young kids must have troubled her in the initial stages by making faces, throwing stones or crowding around her that must have made her cross and ill-tempered. This grouchy temperament must have fetched her the name ‘crazy’. She was otherwise harmless, good-natured and kept away from others. There were unfounded stories about her, that she bathed in the temple tank daily in the middle of the night and that she stood with folded arms at the temple gate looking towards the sanctum sanctorum after the bath. But it was a fact that one Venkatesan, a kindly shop-keeper whose shop was close to the temple car gave her the left-over food after his lunch.  A few of the many pilgrims who came to the temple threw fruits, biscuits, water bottles and coins before her.

Be that as it may, there was an aged resident in one of the houses adjacent to the temple and close to the tank. He was living alone and having his food daily from a hotel adjacent to his house. A quiet man, who wore his dhoti cross-legged in traditional manner and sported the namam prominently on his face, was known for his daily regimen of visiting the temple twice a day and for his religious pursuits. He must have been a man of means as he donated liberally to the temple causes like feeding the poor during festival days. He never mingled much with others.

It was one early morning that some passer-by found his door ajar with a blood-soaked towel lying near the front door. His shouts gathered a few people and a policeman who were standing at the front of the temple. The policeman warned the people from entering the house lest they disturb the evidence and gingerly went inside alone. The body of the old man was found in the front room adjacent to the main door. He had been hit several times by a wooden log from behind with no evidence of a fight, suggesting that the visitor was a known acquaintance.

Enquiries by the police started after a case was registered for homicide. There were no clues left behind except the blood-soaked wooden log. The police dog pursued the trail of the accused only up to the bottom step of the tank. Two months passed by without any progress in the case. It was one hot mid-day, when the policeman in mufti who kept a vigil on the house from temple side stepped into Venkatesan’s shop adjacent to the temple car to sit under a fan and have a glass of cool water. After the initial pleasantries, the conversation led to the murder case that was at a dead end.

The policeman expressed surprise that no one from the shops or the people who were present at the temple's large mandap(portico) had seen on that fateful day anyone entering the house that was clearly visible. He wondered how the case can be resolved unless someone gave a lead.

The conversation led to the crazy woman under the temple car. “Do you think the old woman can throw some light as I have heard that she remains awake and takes bath in the​​ middle of night in the tank,” asked the policeman.

“It is all hearsay about her remaining awake and praying to god at midnight after bath. No one ever talked to her to find out whether she is cogent and normal. I do not think anything useful will come out of her,” replied Venkatesan and added as an afterthought,” People call her crazy for years and I doubt whether her testimony would hold any good.” The policeman did not pursue the conversation thereafter.

Venkatesan surprised the woman by taking the food himself that afternoon instead of his assistant who usually did, He dissuaded her who tried to stand up and sat on a stone by her side. “I think you know our language as you have been here for many years. You must have known that the aged man who was living adjacent to the hotel had been killed. Do you remember him?”

“Are you referring to this old man?” she replied by putting her finger on her forehead and showing the namam shape.

“Yes, the very same man. Tell me what all you know,” he prompted her.

“Oh, oh, was he the one who was killed? I suspected when many policemen visited his house and he was not seen thereafter. Keep it to yourself and do not tell anyone lest some harm befalls you. I have seen one stout man, who was also tall with a steel bracelet on his right hand and a long mustache hanging on both ends, visited him frequently. He used to come sometimes in a small red car with someone else driving the car. I have seen him accosting the old man when he came out of the temple after his daily visit some days. I have not seen him for some months and do not remember to have seen him that day,” she spoke clearly indicating no craziness as her prefix suggested.

“Did you see anybody else on that fateful day at the house of ​the ​aged man?”

The ‘crazy’ woman looked at Venkatesan for long without saying anything which prompted Venkatesan to ask again, “You have not answered my question. Did you see anyone else?”

“I do not remember,” she replied. This time Venkatesan looked searchingly at her eyes for long before he got up and left.

The vigil by police was intense with constables stationed on all the streets around the temple. A week later they found a tall stout man with the bracelet and drooping mustache peeping at the house from a red Maruti wagon. The police nabbed him and took him to the police station. On enquiry, it was revealed that he was looking after the lands of the aged man in a nearby village for several years and met him whenever he came to the town. This was corroborated by the village authorities. Being an unlettered man, it appeared that he had asked the village authorities to file a complaint with the police about the murder.

Left with no other lead to investigate, the inspector decided to meet the woman under the temple car.

“Do not be afraid. I have come to seek your help. The tall man who came in the red car was in fact supervising the old man’s land at the village and visited him often in that connection. He is in the clear. Think carefully and tell me truthfully whether you saw any other man on that night the aged man was murdered. We cannot let an innocent man’s murder to go unresolved and the perpetrator to go free unpunished.”

The ‘crazy’ woman kept quiet for a long​ time​. Pressed repeatedly, she said, “I am sorry I cannot tell you. You find yourself.”

Further enquiries revealed from other shopkeepers revealed that Venkatesan wanted to expand his store and was persuading the aged man to sell his house or let out the front portion of his house for opening a brass and stainless-steel vessel store and that the aged man was unwilling. This led the police to contact the tall stout man who was supervising the lands and learn that the aged man had mentioned that he was being intimidated by the shopkeeper.

When the inspector again questioned the woman whether she knew about the meetings between the shopkeeper and the aged man, she refused to answer. Warned in a stentorian voice with authority and a threat that she would be taken to police station if she did not reply properly, she buckled under pressure and said, “How can I betray my benefactor who had fed me for years?”.

After some initial resistance, Venkatesan after the usual treatment in police custody confessed to the crime but pleaded in extenuation that he was in a drunken state when he was slapped by the old man.

Though I would not like to injure the felicity of the readers, I am compelled to disclose that there was a brutal attack on the old woman the same night by some unknown assailant but luckily it was not fatal.


Thursday, October 27, 2022

The inscrutable ways of God

 A change from a macabre story of a few days back to a purely devotional one.

As Hema and her husband were silently watching TV at their Washington home, Hema broke the silence to say, “My cousin from Ernakulam rang me up to invite me for his son’s wedding. He insisted I should be present. It is eight years since I visited India and I have a vow to discharge at Guruvayoor temple. I undertook this vow when you were in the hospital with a serious respiratory problem in the initial stages of the pandemic. I wish to go for a week early next month.”

“You are past sixty and not so young. Still I have no objection. I am told these days the crowd in the temple is unmanageably large with a long queue somewhat like Tirupati. I am only concerned with your frequent pain in the knee and whether you can stand for long. Take good care,” her husband replied.

Hema could not visit the temple before the wedding. She was however assured by relatives at the wedding that the crowd at the temple was not large during this short lean season. Nevertheless, when she went there the next day there was a long queue moving at snail’s pace thro the rows of parallel railings that seemed endless. The jostling crowd of perspiring devotees and the continuous chatter all around would not allow her to focus her mind on the God. After every 15 minutes, the wicket gate opened to allow a small batch only to close again for another 15 minutes. She had come alone for a day to discharge her vow She was to catch the plane early next morning

She was incessantly praying “Guruvayurappa, please enable me to have a good darshan of you. I am afraid whether this heavy crowd would permit me to stand even for a few seconds before you to offer my prayers in peace. I have been waiting for this visit for several years and was made possible only through your grace. I don’t not know when my next visit to India will take place. Om Namo Narayana, please bestow Your Grace on me.”

The crowd slowly inched forward. She was at last nearing the main entrance. An elephant, a little yonder, was swinging its trunk and eating coconut leaves. While she was watching, a young girl of nine years in a green skirt up to ankle and a matching blouse suddenly appeared before Hema and gave her a plantain fruit telling “Keep this fruit, aunty: you will have a good darshan. Do not worry.”

‘So sweet of you, there is too much jostling by the crowd. Can I take the fruit when I come outside after the darshan lest it gets crushed? replied Hema.”

The girl replied with a bewitching smile “No, no, please keep it with you. You will see me again no doubt”

Even as Hema accepted it, the crowd pushed her inside the gate. Being short, she could not get a glimpse of the Lord like many others who tried by craning their necks at the point of entrance. She could just see the lamps shining inside. She was disappointed and her appeals to Him became more intense and passionate.

As she was approaching the point in the sanctum opposite the God, she saw the officials virtually pressurizing the pilgrims not to stand for even two seconds. It was then someone from behind pushed her and she tripped on the plantain that had fallen down and fell flat before the God.

 As she broke down into tears in embarrassment and at the hurdle, the officials nearby who saw her predicament stopped the pilgrims behind her till she found her feet and told her unbelieving ears” Please have a good darshan of the Lord without hurry.” They gave her some flowers and sandal paste even as she stood before Guruvayurappan to her hearts content. It was then she noticed to her great bewilderment, the Lord appeared to her decorated as a young girl in green skirt. With goosebumps all over the body,she rubbed her eyes only to see the same bewitching girl. The next moment she found Him to her great surprise as Balakrishna in His usual form.

She thanked the officials for their unusual gesture and moved away quickly. When she asked other pilgrims by her side outside the sanctum whether they saw God dressed as a young girl in green skirt, they looked at her quizzically and said that He was decorated only in the usual Balakrishna style with flute in His hand.

Confused with the differing version to what she saw. she rushed to the place where she met the girl only to find no trace of her. Then it struck Hema like a sledge hammer that God Himself had come to her in the form of a girl in green skirt and gave her the plantain, only to make her trip before Him as if in prostration and gave her extended time to have His darshan. The ways of God to show kindness to His devotees are indeed inscrutable.


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The help at the shop


It was Deepavali/ Diwali only on the next day. Even then, the air was thick with smoke but full of fun and revelry and the atmosphere echoed with the laughter of children. The apartments in the posh complex were all decorated in multi-coloured serial lights. There were festoons and glittering lights in the pathways and common areas added magic to the cheerful ambiance. The children were seen running hither and thither bursting crackers and lighting sparklers. The smell of elachi, kesar and other spices wafted from the kitchens that were preparing scrumptious sweets and namkeens. One could see the well-dressed and well-heeled men and women hurrying in cars to make last-minute purchases of dry fruits, gift boxes, sweets and clothes.

Rangaraj just had tea with his wife in the balcony. When he was enjoying the scenery around from their third floor, he found his wife Malti morose with a vacant look. He knew the reason. Though fortunate with wealth, personal attainments and all the comforts, the couple had not been blessed with a child even after ten years of marriage. Doctors had explained that there was nothing medically wrong with them and that in some cases it took inexplicably a long time to conceive. 

Both of them when newly married were fond of buying various varieties of crackers and sparklers and spent a lot of money. He liked long Lars that would bring to a stop the entire neighbourhood with its noise and dazzle. She had a fancy for the multi-coloured fountains and flower pots and rockets. Since some years, the complex association has restricted the use of loud bombs and rockets. To cheer her up he said, “Let us go to the bazaar, buy some crackers and sparklers and pick up some sweets. Why should we be moody when we can join the others in the celebrations? Come on, I will be ready in five minutes after a wash.”

“Sorry, Ranga, I am having a dull headache and would prefer to lie down for a while. Please go and get the things. Buy some namkeens and sweets for the maid. Do not forget to get some harmless crackers,” said Malti.

When he went to the crackers shop, he found it heavily crowded with buyers jostling for space near the long counter with many sales men. It took considerable time and maneuvering for Rangaraj to reach the front row. There were mind boggling varieties and it was hot and sultry to stand there with bright lights. He asked the owner who was seated prominently near him to give him two big packets of assorted crackers.

He then heard a squeaky voice of a young boy of 10 years telling, “Sir, if you buy gift boxes you will be paying more than if you buy item wise in smaller boxes of better sound and quality. I know the prices of all and can help you.”

He looked at the boy, in ordinary clothes with unkempt and curly hair but with an innocent and charming face. He took an instant liking for the boy when he thought of his younger days in poor circumstances when he would hover around cracker shops and derive joy by merely looking at them.

He bent down and said, “Yes, I need your help in buying some more besides these two big boxes. What are your suggestions for a boy of your age? My budget is Rs 500 and it can be Rs 100 or 200 more. No bombs or rockets. Now tell the sales boy to put them in a separate box. I will be watching you and you do not have to seek my approval for your choice. Go ahead and finish quickly.”

“Give me 10 minutes, I will finish buying the stuff,” the boy said with enthusiasm as he started choosing the items.

“Ask them to pack separately. We must hurry as I have to buy some sweets and namkeen too. You must help me there also and help me taking the boxes to my car. Will you?” asked Rangaraj

When the shop owner produced the bill for all the purchases, Rangaraj put his hand on the back pocket. To his shock, it was empty with the purse missing. Shocked, he tapped all the other pockets in vain In anger, he held the collar of the young boy and shouted, “You little rascal, I should have suspected you when you snuggled close to me and had my pocket within your reach all the time. Tell me where is the purse, I will beat you blue if you do not hand it over.”

Baffled the boy said, “No Sir, I have not taken your purse. I was only trying to help you,”

Rangaraj slapped him in anger and screamed “There is no way the purse can mysteriously disappear, you scoundrel.” 

The shop owner intervened to say,” I know this boy. He has been coming daily for the last 10 days and helping the clients. In fact, on a few occasions, he had drawn the attention of customers to the things or bags dropped inadvertently. You must calmly think before you accuse the boy.”

Rangaraj rang his wife only to be told, “You in your usual hurry left your purse on the table in the balcony. I rang up immediately and your phone was busy.” Sincerely regretting his mistake, Rangaraj was on his knees rubbing the boy’s cheeks softly and cursing himself for his rashness.

When the boy kept quiet, Rangaraj lifted the boy in his arms and asked the boy his name and whether he had any crackers for himself.

“No sir, my name is Satyan.We are poor. I have only my mom and a sister. My dad had deserted us.”

At the sweet shop, Rangaraj bought many sweets and namkeens for himself and ordered one big box assorted sweets and namkeens to be packed separately.

When things were kept in car, the boy standing outside the car said,” Thank you sir for giving me an opportunity to help. I derived immense joy in handling several crackers and by their smell.”

“Is your house nearby. Hop in and I will drop you there and then proceed. Sorry for being rough. I should learn to be patient.”

When he saw a dimly lit old tiled house, where the boy resided in a single room with mom and sister, Rangaraj was choked with regret.

He came out of the car with the packet of crackers the boy had selected and the packets of assorted sweets and namkeens. He walked to the bewilderment of the boy to the side door where his mom was standing.

“Namaskaram. Nothing can make amend for my rashness in slapping your son on mistaken suspicion. He was only helping me in buying crackers with no expectation at all. I wish to help him. We have no children and doubt whether we can ever have one. I am wealthy enough to take care of the education of your children. Our house is not far and you can work in our home. Come the day after tomorrow with the children to meet my wife. These packets are a small token of my affection for Satyan. Kindly accept, “said Rangaraj as he gave the packets of crackers, sweets and namkeen. I had forgotten my purse at home and will give you some money for buying new clothes when we meet next.”

The bewildered lady hugged her boy with flowing tears at the prospect of a good turn in her life.